It is with a heavy heart that I announce my return from Europe. Then again, I’m so glad to be back home with loved ones. What a pickle, traveling is. It’s a strange alternate universe where everything you know drops away as you head for The Great Adventure.
Just back from Brussels & Brugge, I have fallen in love with yet another foreign country. Belgium is golden. I would recommend it to anyone.
So much of Brussels pulsed with hints and signs of the great pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. At times, I just wanted to abandon everything and follow those shells as I followed them across Spain back in 2014. The Camino calls to me every day. It felt like home seeing its signs in Brussels.
Ostensibly, I was there for a self-motivated novel writing marathon, in lieu of attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I had it in my head that I would write a novel while staying in Brussels.
But one cannot visit a country they have never been to without taking a walk about and seeing all there is to see. I believe in injecting myself into the city streets and walking madly off in all directions. It’s the best way to learn a foreign city and make it yours. Boy, did I do that in Brussels.
Brussels, Belgium. 2017.
Assorted photos of Brussels. My favourite place to eat was Le Grand Cafe on Boulevard Anspach.–and of course I needed to have a Stella IN Belgium! The city workers painted the crosswalks RAINBOW while I was there. BRUSSELS PRIDE is on May 20th. Just missed it. Try the waffles…they are to die for! And Ellis Gourmet Burgers makes the best burgers in the world! I walked to the top of the Arcade du Cinquantenaire…it’s a beautiful view from atop this triple arch in the centre of Cinquantenaire Park.
Just prior to leaving I had received a WCDR (Writers’ Community of Durham Region) Writing Grant, for which I’m extremely grateful. It served as a reminder to put BIC and get some work done while I was there. I used the grant money to purchase passage to Brugge, where I spent the day exploring the beautiful medieval town. And what tour of Brugge would be complete without climbing to the top of the belfry tower there? The tower has been made famous in the phenomenal 2008 movie IN BRUGES. One of the main characters–Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson–jumped from the top of the tower and died on the cobbles below.
The Belfry Tower in Brugge–a steep climb to the top, but well worth it once you see the breathtaking view of the medieval town spread out below it.
Needless to say, I fell in love with everything I saw. Thankfully, I did get a great start on my novel writing project. Nowhere near what I had hoped for, but the bones are still being formed and it has the momentum it needs. I cannot complain about that. It’s a young adult novel, just over a third done…maybe.
Brugges, Belgium. 2017.
Some more sights from Brugge. including shots from inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is a famous church that houses a venerated relic–a vial said to contain the blood of Christ himself–brought back from the Crusades. The 12th century basilica is located in the Burg Square and has both a lower and an upper chapel.The statuary in these chapels were sad almost to the point of ghastly…and so beautiful in their depiction of pain and sadness.
Now, to get my feet back firmly on the ground here in Toronto and settle in to finish this novel. Travel is a wonderful thing, but so is coming home. Being home. Time to write.
I felt so confident (and dare I say innovative) when I willy-nilly decided, back in January, to randomly choose a European country to travel to–and hide out in–to write a novel during a week in May.
It’s May. I leave for Brussels in two days. The bravado and confidence has left me. As the flight date approaches, I’m getting excited to see the city I chose. I’m also realizing how much I’m going to miss a certain someone when I’m gone. I’m also worried I’m not going to be able to write a novel while I’m gone.
Every year, as the July Muskoka Novel Marathon approaches, I get super nervous that I’m going to come up with nothing during the annual 72hr novel writing marathon in Huntsville. I convince myself ahead of time that I’m going to get there and stare at a blank computer screen and write nothing. In 2016, that’s exactly what I did–more or less–for the first 24 hours. When I was mumbling into a cup of coffee about my despair over not having anything to write about, a writer friend told me to write my story–“but tweak the shit out of it so it doesn’t look quite like yours”. He immediately released an idea in me and that idea flowered into the novel that went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL at the marathon.
So a part of me knows that the lack of confidence and the fear and the anxiety is part of the shtick. It’s part of who I am. I tell myself over and over and over again that I’m not worthy, that I can’t handle it, that I can’t do it, that I’m incapable, that I’m hopeless, that I’m going to fail, that I CAN’T. But there’s no corresponding rational part of me that points out that this is just part of the shtick. I’m in the head-space, at the moment, that is convinced I will fail at the writing part of this journey. I can’t do it. I will fail.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still manic-ally looking forward to seeing a new European city. I love travel. I would do it every day if it were a possibility. And to be honest, BRUSSELS wasn’t as randomly chosen as I would like to believe it was. To say I closed my eyes and pointed at a map of Europe and said, “This is where I will go to write a novel” is more romance than reality. I have been smitten by the eventuality of Brussels for some time. And, more pointedly, BRUGES…which I will also be exploring. I can’t wait to see these two places. I’m sure the travel part of this trip will be a smashing success. It’s the writing part I fear. It’s the being-away-from-someone-whose-constant-presence-makes-me-happy part I fear.
I want to do this. The suitcase is relatively packed. The laptop is ready for the journey. The day trips are booked for mid-week—Brussels walking tour on Tuesday and Bruges walking tour on Wednesday (because walking is the only true way to SEE a place–I learned that on the Camino)—I’m imagining sitting in front of the screen for the rest of the trip, tapping away at my keyboard. I’m sending myself anticipatory good vibes. I’m hoping this novel writing experiment is a success. For more than one reason.
(CLICK ON THE PIC/LINK BELOW TO BE TAKEN TO MY AMAZON PAGE TO CHECK OUT MY PUBLISHED NOVELS…)
I’m sitting here with TWO consecutive novels that didn’t make it to publication. One–a Gay YA issue novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, about the forming of a gay/straight alliance in a high school–was loved by my agent and read by almost every single major and mid-range publisher in North America. They all rejected it—mostly with glowing compliments regarding the writing, etc…but with the death knell causing reason of it being BEHIND THE TREND. The second novel–a road trip returning home after estrangement because of a death in the family story called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT–was rejected out of the gate, by my agent. As I felt it contained some of my best writing, the rejection threw me for more than a loop. It is making me reevaluate everything at a time when I had previously planned to sit down in a foreign country and write a new novel. I’m on shaky ground here. Not to mention how devastating it was to have PRIDE unanimously rejected by so many (ALL) major publishers.
I suppose I should be honored that they all requested fulls of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and that they all apparently read said fulls. I suppose I should be honored by the rejections that are so complimentary I could frame them and hang them on the wall for inspiration. But I’m not. A writer mostly only hears the NO. Every rejection is a hit. Especially when you have already rejected yourself. When it comes from the publisher/agent, it’s kind of a reassurance of your lack of belief in your ability as a writer. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a rampant thing in creatives, but I don’t have faith. Well, I do…I have faith in my inability. And yet I keep on keeping on.
So here I am. I’m a soon to be traveler again. I’m looking forward to seeing a new city I dreamed of seeing. I’m feeling really sad about being away from the one I love for an entire week and looking forward to getting back home to be with them. I’m also just a boy, sitting in front of a laptop, asking it to love him. This experiment HAS to work. I neglected to sign up for the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON this year. I wanted to take away the safety net of having a back-up novel writing plan in place for the year 2017. I LIKE writing my novels in (relatively) one sitting. So I narrowed this year’s novel writing journey to ONE PLACE, ONE WEEK, ONE CHANCE. That chance is BRUSSELS.
I’m going to miss you like crazy, Michael. Even though I already know we will be in almost constant communication and I’ll be having fun exploring new places and you’ll be having fun in the wonderful world of Disney, I’m going to miss our everyday everydayness for the coming week.
With all the anxiety of a full grown holler monkey about to jump up and down on a sheet of movie studio glass in the hopes of it not shattering into a million tiny pieces (this is the thing that seems like it would be the most demonstrative example of high-anxiety to me–so please go with it and don’t argue with a crazy person), I am ready to begin my experiment. Please, FRANCIS DE SALES, wherever your heart and mind and soul and spirit may be, please watch over me, a mad and failed writer in a world filled with mad and failed writers, while I’m gone to this place on earth to hole-up in a sub-standard hotel to write the Great North-American Novel ironically nowhere near North-American soil. Please, dear patron saint of writers and journalists, take pity on my misguided experiment. Allow me to, at the very least, find a way to write one word after another word after another word while I’m gone. I need this. I am a fallen scribe who needs something to believe in. Please give me the strength to SIT & WRITE. And, please, GIVE ME SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. Tell me a story, all about a glory…how to begin it? There’s nothing in it…
I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it’s always good to throw out a reminder to WCDR members that they should take advantage of allthe benefits membership opens up to them.
For those who have not yet heard of one of Canada’s most vibrant writing communities, the WCDR stands for Writers Community of Durham Region. Durham Region is JUST east of Toronto, Ontario. The group for writers is over 300 strong. Membership is open to all, whether or not you live in the area…though if you do live in the area you would more easily get to participate in many of the writing events that take place there. They have an almost monthly Roundtable Breakfast Meeting in Whitby, reading events, workshops, small writing circles, etc, etc, etc.
By taking part in some of the member benefits, writers can gain experience, knowledge, connections, publishing credits and more. One of the best benefits is the Wordweaver Newsletter that the organization puts out. It is ONLY open for members to submit to, and it’s a paying publication. This benefit gives new writers a great opportunity to gain publication credits, as well as helps to offset the cost of membership.
Another great benefit that WCDR members have is access to the great array of writing grants. Their Grants & Scholarships Program is open only to members and they are always free to apply to.
As well as all of these things, there is always a discounted member fee on the workshops and writing programs on offer through the WCDR. And it’s always a good idea to upgrade your writing skills by attending workshops.
So, if you happen to be a WCDR member and you’re not taking advantage to all the benefits the organization has to offer you, start doing so today. Hit any of the links above for more information on the things I listed, or navigate the WCDR at your own pace to discover everything there is to know about the organization. It’s a powerhouse on the Canadian writing landscape. Take advantage of it.
This brings me to the fact that my upcoming trip is fast approaching. 19 days before I depart for Belgium! I will be spending a week in Brussels in lieu of attending the Muskoka Novel Marathon this coming July. I wanted to shake things up a bit this year. I still plan to marathon a novel, but I thought I would try it on my own this time, see how my self-discipline is holding up. ALL writers desperately need self-discipline. It’s the thing that makes the difference between success and failure sometimes. Skill is only part of the equation. You can have all the skill in the world and do all your writing in the form of Twitter tweets and Facebook updates and Instagram posts. When the chips are down, what you really need to do is get BUM IN CHAIR and write. And that’s just what I will be doing in Brussels.
But I’m not crazy. I’m not going halfway around the world to lock myself in a room to write. NOT ONLY. I booked two days in which to see the world around me. A walking tour of Brussels and a walking tour of Bruges. And in between I hope to write not ONE but TWO novels in a week. If I can write the better part of one in 72 hours, I don’t see why I can’t stretch myself to write 2 in 7 days. I’m sure the math doesn’t work that way, though…but it’s not going to prevent me from trying.
Another thing about Brussels. It was the impetus for me to finally consider applying for a WCDR writing grant. I always thought I’d leave the grants and scholarships alone…leave them for others to use. After arranging my writing schedule for the trip, I thought, why not? So I applied. And I was awarded a grant this past Saturday. SO it is with much appreciation to the organization I have already come to love so much over the years that I thank the WCDR for their contribution to my solitary European writing retreat. I will be writing with the knowledge that the organization stands behind my efforts. For that I am grateful.
I’m sure I’ll be back to tell you how it went. I won’t say I’m not nervous. I get this nervous every year before I head to the Muskoka Novel Marathon too. What if I sit down and I have nothing to write? What if the muse does not appear? What if I become too distracted to write? What if? What if? What if? You can’t live your life by what ifs, though. I will get to Belgium, I will sit down in a strange place and I will open my laptop and I will write.
Every now and again I write a catch-all post to include some of the things on my writerly horizon. The ones in my immediate future may be of interest to those of you in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area for visitors from elsewhere on the globe).
Event #1 – Ontario Writers’ Conference FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS
Originally birthed at the Ontario Writers’ Conference, this legacy event of the now defunct annual conference promises to be an exciting evening out for writers and readers alike. The event takes place at Creative Math & Music (1064 Salk Rd., Units 5-7 Pickering, ON, L1W 4B5) on Friday March 31st, 2017 from 7;00pm-10:00pm. From the OWC website:
The Festival usually features:
entertaining interviews and inspiring author readings (see below)
opportunities to mingle with Canadian Authors, fellow writers and avid readers
voting for the winners of our Story Starters Contest
exciting prizes !
Announced thus far for the festival is the amazing TED BARRIS as emcee and award winning debut novelist ANN Y.K. CHOI. You can read more about the festival, including bios for both announced authors at THIS LINK FOR OWC FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ted Barris, and of seeing him in action as an author interviewer and interviewee. An evening with Ted Barris is worth the price of admission. And I am right in the middle of reading Ann Choi’s KAY’S LUCKY COIN VARIETY from Simon & Schuster Canada. It’s a lovely coming-of-age story that takes place in Koreatown in Toronto in the 80s. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and hope to have it completed by the Festival on the 31st. Here’s a brief synopsis of the book from Goodreads:
A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s. This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence. A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.
Keep watching the OWC website further further author announcement. And get your TICKETS soon, as they just may sell out!
Even#2 – WCDR Words of the Season
This is a regular feature of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. It’s an evening of readings from WCDR members and it features fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, etc. Taking place this time around in Whitby, Words of the Season will happen on Tuesday April 4th, 2017. This is an open event and anyone is invited to attend. Simply show up at:
Arrive as early as 6:00 pm. Socialize, eat, enjoy a beverage – food and drink available for purchase. Performances start at 7:00 pm. Fully accessible venue.
Maaja Wentz will be emceeing this event. Members read, but anyone can come and listen. And stay for a meal.
I will be one of the readers this time around, reading from an upcoming novel.
Event #3 – April WCDR Roundtable Meeting
This mostly monthly breakfast menu for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region is always lively…and always filled with approximately 100 writers from Durham and the rest of the GTA–an amazing feat in itself for a Saturday at 8:30am.
The APRIL meeting will feature what the WCDR is calling a BLUE PENCIL BONANZA. Foregoing the usual format of a GUEST SPEAKER, April will be set up as a hands-on critiquing meeting. Each table will feature a different genre and a professional in that genre will facilitate the table through a critique of sample pages submitted by members at the time of registration. Meeting attendees could either choose to participate by submitting their work ahead of time OR observe at the table of their choosing. Please note that NON-MEMBERS will not be permitted to submit samples. This is only open to WCDR MEMBERS.
This event takes place:
BISTRO 67 – Durham College, Centre for Food
1604 Champlain Avenue, Whitby ON
The May 6th WCDR Roundtable Meeting will feature Guest Speaker TREVOR COLE. He will talk about “the early days of organized crime in Canada, before the First World War, when the Italian criminal underworld was known as the Black Hand. He’ll describe how it dovetailed with the beginnings of prohibition and led to the rise of Rocco Perri as the most powerful bootlegger and mob boss in southern Ontario.”
If I wasn’t leaving the continent on the very day this event is happening, I would most certainly be there. I hate to miss it.
Mr. Cole will also facilitate the AFTER-BREAKFAST MINI-WORKSHOP on May 6th >>>
Ear-worms are fingers tapping your soul asking you to remember.
And I still find it so hard to say what I need to say.
What follows is mere rumination.
I’ve been imagining myself a playwright of late. Again. I’ve begun project after project…and even completed a couple (DETAILS TO FOLLOW IN THE COMING WEEKS).
When I started writing poetry, which may in fact be my first calisthenics endeavor with words, I thought, ‘this must be the hardest thing to write.’ Then I took on the short story and discovered poetry was easier than I thought…because the short story was near impossible. From there, I took on the novel…because it’s only MORE of a short, right? A longer short, if you will. How much more difficult could it be?
Was I in for a surprise! Culottes are not pants. The novel was difficult in its own unique way. I came upon issues that had nothing to do with the short story, even though they resemble one another in so many ways. I might argue that the short story is more difficult than the novel overall…because of what you have to put into it and the confined perimeters you are given and forced to squeeze those ingredients into. It’s a bit of a magic trick, really. But the novel…the endurance one needs to see it through to the end! The novel is almost a physical feat. It’s so exhausting.
All these word trials combined can’t really prepare one for playwriting. If novel writing is bringing a story to life, then playwriting is bringing characters to life. It’s about getting your characters to say precisely what they need to say. No FAT. No un-wanted words. It’s the novel without the movement, for the characters themselves perform the movement. You don’t get to DESCRIBE…you just get to talk.
My ‘mentor’ and idol, W. Somerset Maugham, once said, “Thank God, I can look at a sunset now without having to think how to describe it.” (Read his THE SUMMING UP) This was said in a sort of elation as he had moved from novel writing to play-writing. He was thrilled to be spending more time in dialogue and less tedious time building up the area around the talking. And I agree with him fully and completely.
But there is also an element of playwriting that is terrifying. It’s like removing all the trees the novel provides for shading. You are starkly naked against the stage. The reader is not going to be taking the description you wrote and running it through their imaginations and making it even bigger and better than what you originally gave them…AND crediting you with the entire picture formed by the marriage of your prose and their imaginations. The characters literally need to carry everything forward in a play. If it’s not seen and heard, it doesn’t happen.
And THIS is what I want for myself? THIS is my ultimate goal as a writer? To write conversations that must have the fortitude to stand alone? I must be crazy. Poetry makes the world prettier, short stories and novels makes the world vivid and in front of you and alive.
Plays, for the playwright at any rate, give only bodies talking. Theatre does not end with the playwright. Theatre merely begins at the end of the playwriting. The breath gets blown into the play via the director and the actors, and the dramaturge before that. The play is merely mud until those elements mould it into existence–words on paper. The playwright provides the mud and the director and actors mould it into the golem. The whole is a collaborative effort. Where a novelist needs no collaboration outside of those who polish their piece and make it its most presentable, the playwright needs a stable of people to carry their work forward. The novelist has to imagine a person sitting in a room, lounging in a chair, book in hand…their imagination knitting with the words on the page to form something greater than the sum of the novel’s parts. The playwright needs to count on the faith of many believers taking to the stage and presenting their words to a person sitting in a room, sitting in a chair, eyes wide open taking in the show. The playwright needs to step back and allow what it is they wrote to take on a new life, to become something other than what it is they wrote…something better.
I suppose there is always a collaboration. The novelist and the reader’s imagination. The playwright and the busload of people injecting the words with imagination, movement, and the business of performing them. I really must be crazy, because I do both of these things. But both are wildly rewarding in their own way. Each one gives back as much as you give into it. To see your words brought to life by actors on the stage is an alchemy I’ll never get used to. And to hear that your novel has touched a reader…untold joy. Every once in a while I reach a place of reflection and realize what these things mean to me. They are everything. The word is the light, indeed.
I’m writing a play right now, writing the conversations that will hopefully be brought to life on the stage. One must believe in that eventuality when writing a play. It is the only way for the play to be born…it must leave the page. Its characters must take flesh.
And with every line of dialogue, I remind myself that nothing can be extraneous on the page. They NEED to say only what NEEDS to be said.
And I still find it so hard to say what I need to say…
The following was originally published in the WCDR Wordweaver in the spring of 2015.
WRITING THROUGH A CRISIS OF HAPPINESS
It’s been ages since I’ve had a daily writing regime. I was fanatical about my sacred hour of writing before the rooster crowed. Then life changed. Drastically. I came down with a debilitating Crisis of Happiness™.
I write from darkness. I’m a writer because of my misery-laden psyche. From darkness comes creativity. Remove darkness, and the urgency to write evaporates. Happiness equals a dry well.
While on my recent vacation to China and Hong Kong, I planned to re-institute my early-morning writing hour. I thought it’d be easier to get back into my regime while vacationing. But Beijing was breathtakingly beautiful. This made for great writing fodder, but also ramped up my Crisis of Happiness™.
We travelled almost every day. We went from Beijing to Shanghai to Suzhou to Hangzhou to Wuxi to Shanghai to Hong Kong. Most mornings I awoke in a different hotel room than the morning before. With 14 days to re-establish my habit, I persevered.
Writing is a discipline. We must take it seriously in order for it to have importance in our lives. I had been using it as a crutch to prop up the rest of my life. One early morning in Shanghai, I considered a change of perspective. Write from a place of joy. Such an easy concept. If I could write from a wounded psyche, I could also write from joy. I embraced the pre-dawn vista of Shanghai spread out before me like a frenetic wonderland and I picked up my pen. I wrote. I was back.
I can’t, however, write about the place I’m in. Amid the unsurpassed beauty of Suzhou—Venice of the East—I wrote about how, atop the Eiffel Tower, the blinding Paris sunsets distort the views of the beautiful city below. Having spent the previous day boating through Suzhou’s beautiful canals, I happily wrote about Paris sunsets.
This morning, I awoke with a vivid memory of a tipsy evening in a restaurant atop the peak overlooking Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. I wrote about being down in the harbour earlier that day, and how water lapped at the hulls of the ancient heritage boats precisely the same way it lapped at new boats. The ancient ones were festooned with Chinese lanterns and decorous accoutrements, but their seaworthiness seemed questionable. The powerful new motorboats were sleek, sexy, and clearly capable of seafaring adventures.
I wrote about how perspective changes a person. I used to be one of those rickety old boats swaying in the wake of the newer models, always fearing that today is the day I sink. Oh, how I tried to write my way out of sinking. But I realized one need not be the shiny new boat to stay afloat. One need only move the pen across the page.
Writers are witnesses not only on the days we’re miserable and tired. We must also be witnesses on the days we’re overcome with joie de vivre. We must bear witness every day.
Come and steep yourself in Scottish literature and landscape. ~ So goes the new call to arms (to pens?) on The Inkslingers’ website.
Are you going to answer the call? It’s always a good idea to invest in your writing life. You owe it to yourself to explore your craft with the same passion with which you explore the world…total immersion. No better way to do it than to do the two things together. Let Inkslingers, along with the literary landscape of Scotland, take you on a writing adventure this July! Wanderlust and Writing are perfect partners…and with Inkslingers guiding the way, you cannot go wrong.
The INKSLINGERS are taking a group of writers to SCOTLAND for a retreat of immersion in words and place.
Writers will explore Glasgow, Ayrshire, Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Ness, Dunkeld, and, Edinburgh. Yoga Classes will be offered by Yoga instructor and Poet, Kate Marshall Flaherty, and the writing sessions will be led by Sue Reynolds, with additional support from Kate and James Dewar. There will be a tour of a distillery, a sheepdog display, the Peter Pan Museum, Edinburgh Castle…and much more. Be prepared to be fully immersed in your surroundings! And you will have the finest writing workshop facilitators guiding your writing experience along the way.
The copy on the INKSLINGERS’ website says it all:
It is Inkslingers’ mission to deliver writing workshops and retreats that enrich the experience and strengthen the craft of each participant while building community and keeping each writer safe in their creativity. ~ INKSLINGERS
I have been a recipient of their ability to deliver on that promise. Both James Dewar and Susan Lynn Reynolds have made me a better writer.
Who are the Inkslingers? Susan Lynn Reynolds was my initial introduction to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. I originally took her memoir workshop at a library in Durham Region back in 2002 or 2003. From there, I followed her all the way to Uxbridge, Ontario, the very next day to attend a regular on-the-spot writing group she facilitated at the library there. And I never looked back! Sue is an amazing teacher/facilitator. With her exuberance and passion for writing, and her understanding and knowledge of the craft, she makes an exemplary mentor. After attending her on-the-spot group for a couple of years, I later took an extended workshop on novel writing with Sue…and it got me on my current path of novel-writing. YOU CAN READ SUE’S BIO HERE.
James Dewar is the poet who gave me my first introduction to open-mic and poetry performance. He took a chance on me as a spoken word poet before I was ready…and he ignited a passion in me to strive to be a better poet and a better speaker. He’s a natural teacher/mentor. I also attended a poetry workshop led by James, and it was phenomenal and enlightening. I’d recommend them to anyone. You can read about my experience at James’s POETRY SANCTUARY HERE. The sanctuaries are so worth the drive north of the city. YOU CAN READ JAMES’S BIO HERE.
Last year (2016) The Inkslingers took a group of writers on a retreat in IRELAND. The whole adventure is captured in their online diaries. You can read all about that retreat at the Inkslingers’ website, to see the detail and care they take in planning their writing adventures:
Scotland is the home and inspiration of a number of the great influences of Western literature: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Dunnett, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Muriel Sparks, George MacDonald, Samuel Johnson, Kenneth Grahame, Louise Welsh, Josephine Tey and J.K. Rowling, and the iconic Robbie Burns! ~ INKSLINGERS
If you are avoiding the things that make you uncomfortable and vulnerable, are you really being the most authentic writer you COULD be? Are you delivering the goods by hiding behind a facade of false emotions and safe-ness? Or are you stymieing yourself by avoiding things and then transferring these avoidances into your narrative.
Go to that place that makes you uncomfortable. Go to the wall you built for yourself but never climb, or to the line in the sand you marked out for yourself but never put your foot over. Go there now. Climb the wall. Put your foot over that line. Make yourself squirm with discomfort. Tackle the issues you avoid.
Only by breaking through these vulnerabilities will you drop yourself down to a deeper level. It will make your writing better. It will make you better.
Writing isn’t easy. Writing isn’t about comfort. It’s about making yourself uncomfortable. It’s about stretching the envelope for yourself, and perhaps stretching the envelope for others…if you’re lucky enough to have readers. Writing is about ideas, exploration, frontiers, change. How are you going to write with authenticity, if you’re avoiding your authentic feelings.
Look at your list. Now go to your writing…and move your foot forward when all of your instincts tell you to stop. Keep writing when you write yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of because you don’t want to breach your own sense of safety and security. Explore those emotions that you’re afraid of confronting. KEEP WRITING. The more you write about your fears, the more you free yourself from their hold on you. Write through your discomfort. Write while vulnerable…
Sometimes, in the life of an author, the echo of silence is so severe it scorches. The armor one must wear to be a writer is, at times, debilitating. Even with 5 novels published and readily available for consumption, I’m, for the most part, an unread author. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to squish a mountain of sour grapes into the universe. It is what it is. My books are largely unread. It is merely a fact.
This, in and of itself, is not as debilitating as it sounds. Honestly. Just a little disheartening. But the preciousness of the ego is protected in such a way that one can hold on to one good word for a very long time as motivation to carry on and continue on with the journey despite the obvious reasons one has for folding up shop and moving on. Between the excruciatingly long awkward silences that come of being an unread author, there are little tidbits of rewards when one discovers someone has not only read one of your books…but loved it. These nuggets are what I hold onto when I struggle with the ever-present question that dogs the unread author: WHAT’S THE POINT?
But the point is more about self-fulfillment than it is about being read, isn’t it? When it comes right down to it, the creative heart is creative out of necessity rather than out of any desire for recognition and being petted for being creative. Creativity happens even in a void of witnesses. If I were the last human being on the planet–the lucky/unlucky survivor of a nuclear holocaust, say–I’d still have the need in my heart to be creative. I would still write.
I’ve been thinking a LOT lately about the Camino de Santiago and how my experience there reflects my creative life. I haven’t quite made the connection, but it’s there. I just can’t put my finger on it. I have thought a lot about the concept of EVERYDAY CAMINO since returning from Spain in May of 2014. I have thought a lot about the fact that the journey not only ended at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela…but it also BEGAN there. I honestly can’t stop thinking about how the journey of the Camino de Santiago mirrors Dorothy’s journey on the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz. I was mesmerized by the analogy all throughout my Camino journey and even more so at the end of the journey when I stood in the piazza in front of the great cathedral and saw a million familiar faces staring back at me and up into the face of the cathedral itself. Every man, woman and child I had walked beside, around, with, past—every one of them seemed to be there in that piazza. I walked around in a daze, thinking, ‘And you were there, and you were there, and you were there, and you were there!’And when I walked into the cathedral, I felt the weight of a thousand dreams, wishes and hopes. I looked about for the wizard and he was there and he was me and he was all the other peregrinos (pilgrims) present at the time. We were all the wizard. We were all the makers of our own journeys. We were allthere for proof of intelligence, and for a heart, and for courage, and for a home. We were there to belong.
I want to be on that journey, still. I want that wide-eyed wonder every day. I AM on that journey. I carry it with me. It is only after you walk the Camino de Santiago that you realize the journey has just begun. You can bottle that mesmerizing feeling and take it with you. The Camino allows you do to that.
The tie-in for me, when it comes to trying to piece together my writing life with my Camino, is the Muskoka Novel Marathon. This 72hr novel writing marathon is to the Camino as The Wizard of Oz is to the Camino. At the end of the writing marathon, I look around at all the tired, sleepy, traumatized, disheveled, elated, emotional writers (40+ of them) I took the marathon journey with and I think, ‘And you were there, and you were there, and you were there, and you were there!’ We land at the end of the marathon weekend with a splash and a plunk and we say, “WE MADE IT!” The marathon is the Camino is the marathon is the Camino. They are the same thing…both are journeys. One uses your feet and your heart and your desire and your dreams. The other uses all those things and a laptop and a chair.
I may have just put my finger on it.
I need to live the Everyday Camino I theorize and I need to use the Everyday MNM I theorize. I need these journeys to continue. I have books to write. I have books to complete. I can’t sit around hoping for others to read the words I leave behind me. I need to continue to leave them there for myself.
These two paths are so connected–interconnected–when I squint, the line between them disappears. Camino = Writing = Camino. I will, in the coming months, be looking for ways to shore up my writing practice with my Camino journey…which I very much consider to be ongoing.
I already know I will NOT be attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I won the Best Novel Award last year at the marathon, for the 5th time. I’m thrilled at that accomplishment. But I also felt like most of my time there was mired in failure last year. My unfinished manuscripts are piling up and I discovered at the marathon that I am unable to work on finishing projects there in that space of new projects. And that is what I want to do…finish projects. That is my goal for 2017.
In keeping with that goal, I am going to be exploring ways to work on my WIPs while at the same time exploring my life journey, my Camino. I know I can continue to incorporate the two. I don’t always write about the journeys I take, but I always feel more invigorated and ready to write when I take journeys. Perhaps I should make my own Camino this year, make my own novel writing marathon.
How about you stop bullshitting to yourself and everyone around you that you don’t have the time to write (substitute write for anything else you put off because you don’t have time)?
How about you sit. How about you write. “Put them together and what have you got?” Well, Louis Armstrong might say, “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”, but what you have is SIT AND WRITE. That’s all you need to know about finding time to write. Seriously, stop the bullshit. How many times are you doing something that is not writing and also not life-altering mind-bending awesomeness that you can’t not do? Think about it. How often do you surf the web, scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc, etc. BE THE NETHERLANDS IN 2017. TAKE BACK YOUR WRITING LAND. Stop the madness.
I know the truth because I lie a lot. I moan about not having time to write, but then I sit and do nothing. I call bullshit on everyone else because I call bullshit on myself. I typically find excuses not to write for approximately 10 months out of the year. And then I cram most (okay, HALF) of a book into July at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. And then, in the next month or so, I cram the rest of that novel. I get a novel done, but I may have only used 10 days of the 365 at my disposal. I know for a fact that I could write SO MUCH MORE if I only gave myself dedicated writing time. I have no willpower, I have no motivation, I have no gumption, I have no drive.
If I make a pact right now to make my own 2017 the year to write, and to take writing seriously for the first time in my life, I know I’ll fail. I AM TOO LAZY. This message is for YOU! Don’t be like me. Write every day. Take back the land that is rightfully yours! Reclaim it from the ocean of wasted time around you. You’re better than this. You can do more. YOU CAN WRITE MORE. Get off your ass and get into a chair! You know what I mean. Stop making excuses. WRITE! Write for at least an hour every day. Each and every day.
One page a day is a novel of 365 pages in one year. There really is NO excuse not to be able to squeeze one hour of writing into each and every day of your year. Don’t make me slap you. SIT. WRITE.
Report back to me MONTHLY! Make yourself accountable!